The Ghana movie industry back in time boasted of cinemas as ways of recouping their money. Cinemas served that generation well because they were a source of entertainment. The movies are aired on weekends and weekdays and there were notices from GTV reminding viewers of the times they would be aired. Ghana used to boast of many cinemas.
We had the likes of Rex Cinema (behind the Accra hockey pitch), Orion (Kwame Nkrumah Circle), Opera (Accra Central), Oxford (Accra New Town), Royal (Adabraka), Globe (also Adabraka), Roxy (Circle-Adabraka road), Orbit (Kaneshie), Casino (Tema), Vision 66, Regal (Osu-La road), Picorna, Plaza (Mamprobi), Palladium cinemas (Accra Central) and Sid Theatre (Dzorwulu).
In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, the older folks I have spoken to during my research recounted the joy these cinemas brought to them. Not only did the older folks get to watch movies, they also attended concerts and shows backed by live bands. One elderly man describes those memories as “unforgettable.” He added that those days created a platform for husbands and wives to bond and have their special moments. Not only did the cinemas arouse passion among patrons, the movie producers also were rewarded for their efforts in production as they recouped the money invested.
What my two years’ research reveals
In my two years of research before writing on this topic, I found that, in Accra, Roxy cinema and Sid Theatre are the only ones in existence. As for Roxy cinema, part of it has been converted into a restaurant while the other part is being used as a cinema for football experience. Sid Theatre, privately owned by Alhaji Sidiku Buari, had collapsed. In its place is a plush building for rental as a cinema hall.
My research also revealed that not all the more than ten cinema houses that operated then in Ghana were owned by Ghanaians. A few were owned by a group of Lebanese business people called Captans. These Lebanese owned the Opera, Orbit, Oxford and Orion cinemas.
Another elderly man recounts that the cinemas showed not only Ghanaian movies but foreign ones as well. He recounts that there were days the cinemas could get so full that people queued for tickets and waited for the next slot to also have their turn. He remembers watching movies like ‘Hercules Unchained,’ ‘10 Commandments,’ ‘10 Gladiators,’ cowboy films, Roman and Indian films. It was a lot of fun, those days! he muses.
One Mr Lawrence Eshun recalled how film stars like Bruce Lee, Li Fu Tsu, Ma Feng, Swan Peng, Jackie Chan, Amitabh Bachchan, Sri Devi, Dharmendra, Sunil Patel, Anil Kapoor all from China, and how India became a household name thanks to the many cinema houses in the country at that time. “Those days, the only Ghanaian movies one could watch were ‘Road to Kukurantumi,’ ‘Love Brewed in African Pot,’ ‘Harvest at 17,’ ‘Genesis Chapter X’ and a few more. It was mostly Chinese and Indian movies, and they had good stories to tell, unlike today’s [films],” he added.
What happened to the cinemas?
While I was talking to some selected people who shared their cinema experiences with me, a part of me wanted to experience a bit of those days, so I set out to find out what had become of our cinemas. Four or five decades down the line, we as Ghanaians cannot even boast of these cinema halls. Many have pointed fingers at various governments in power; others attributed this state of affairs to our poor maintenance culture as a nation. The other category of people informed me that the cinemas were not generating enough revenue and had had to be sold off by government. How sad!
For instance, Alive Chapel used to occupy the Orion cinema till it moved out and, unfortunately, squatters took over. Orbit cinema is currently the home of Kaneshie market; Rex cinema is presently home to a chain of shops; Regal cinema on the Osu-La road was sometime ago converted into a church but is now the home of a trading enterprise owned by a company that deals in curtains. Churches springing up occupy some of them. That’s the end of the once- vibrant cinema experience.
Attempts at resuscitation
Mr Dodoo, once the caretaker of Regal cinema at Adabraka, tells me that he has made some effort towards technological advancement in the cinema arena, but his major problem has been low patronage.
‘The sound here has been upgraded with the help of my sons, but the problem is that the cinema is an open space and it is not convenient when it rains. Also, the seats are still wooden and most of them have been destroyed as a result of exposure to the sun and rains,’ he further explained.
‘Part of the once-vibrant cinema has been sold to be used as a restaurant. I have complained to the Ministry of Tourism and have written to them for assistance and the response I keep getting is that the cinema is not doing well enough to justify pumping much money into it,’ he reiterated.
Mr Dodoo says he is doing his best. To make the place a little exciting, he rents it out for stage plays and comedies and charges as low as GH?1.00. He admits it is low, but is meant to attract many to enjoy the old cinema experience.
The 76-year-old man gladly agreed in my interview to take charge of the old facility because he was once a beneficiary of the old cinema experience and he felt sad that the cinema is not what it used to be. He called for private entities to come to the aid of the Regal cinema.
Lest we forget, the GAMA Films Theatre, another cinema operated by GAMA Films, was also vibrant till it collapsed. The reason? I can’t tell. It is refreshing to know that after a while, I saw adverts run on TV3 about GAMA Films Theatre bouncing back as the “new” executive theatre. The advert suggested that the new executive theatre was open to people who want to premier their movies.
I recall going for a movie premier there about a year ago. My remarks? For the fact that it cannot accommodate a large audience, it’s all right for a cinema. So at least we can be grateful for the new executive cinema in addition to Sid Theatre and Roxy cinema.
Technology sets in
My research also pointed to the fact that the sale of VHS, which hitherto was a prerogative of the rich, boomed in Ghana thanks to our Nigerian counterparts. Many Ghanaians at the time purchased video decks and colour television sets from their trips to Nigeria, all in a bid to enjoy the VHS experience. There was no real need anymore to patronize the cinema houses, with the introduction of the VHS and the video deck as one could watch whatever one desired to watch in the privacy of one’s own home.